ScareHouse to possibly lose Halloween crowds with delay of Scream District opening

click to enlarge Behind-the-scenes of Scream District - CP PHOTO: ALEX GORDON

CP photo: Alex Gordon

Behind-the-scenes of Scream District

As a Pittsburgh native, Scott Simmons always wanted to move his popular haunted house business ScareHouse from its home in the borough of Etna to inside the city.

“I always thought it would be really fun to be in a more tourist-driven part of the city to actually have foot traffic,” says Simmons.

That dream came true in August when ScareHouse announced plans to move into 2420 Penn Ave. in the Strip District with its latest haunted attraction, the Scream District. Come September, the ScareHouse team even gave members of the press a behind-the-scenes look at its new spooky digs.

But now it seems that dream has become a bureaucratic nightmare, as the opening date for Scream District has been postponed multiple times due to delayed permit approvals. On Oct. 1, ScareHouse announced a new anticipated opening date of Oct. 10. Today, a tentative opening date was moved to Oct. 18, and that’s only if the still-pending inspections and permit approvals are received from city and county officials.

“It’s not as if there are any bad guys in any of this, it’s just that the process of getting permits and things done in the city of Pittsburgh has proven to be so time-consuming and so much slower than we ever could have anticipated,” says Simmons. “Even with feedback from the City and from the architects involved and everyone else, it’s just remarkable how long it takes to get anything done.”

He owes some of it to a misunderstanding of how the permit approval process works, assuming they would be able to be up and running in three to four months. Simmons says they originally moved into the space in June, and plans for Scream District were submitted on Aug. 2, followed by a zoning approval on Aug. 13 and a review on Sept. 13. But he says they ended up not getting the building permit until Oct. 1. While the building has had to undergo significant renovations, he says upgrades like the addition of two bathrooms on the first floor are the major cause of the holdup.

Simmons says they have already lost significant revenue by not being open on Columbus Day weekend, and that the possibility of losing the weekend of Oct. 18-20 – what he calls a peak time for haunted houses – would be “potentially catastrophic.” ScareHouse has also had to reschedule or offer refunds to ticket holders multiple times.

While the process has made Simmons more appreciative of what businesses in Pittsburgh go through, he believes it’s especially daunting for a small, seasonal business like ScareHouse, which has operated outside of the city in Etna since 1999.

“If a restaurant opens a month or two late, that’s unfortunate,” says Simmons. “But if a haunted house opens in November, that’s not great at all.”

Still, as a result, ScareHouse has had to extend its limited operating schedule and is even considering staying open on Black Friday and on the winter holidays.

“I believe there’s an audience for Halloween events outside of October, I just didn’t plan on putting that to the test in such a critical way so soon,” says Simmons.

ScareHouse still has some business coming in with the Zombie Den pop-up bar at the Original Oyster House Downtown, but hopes its main attraction will still be able to take advantage of the Halloween season.

“I’m still really excited about the project, and everyone around in the Strip is really excited and very welcoming,” says Simmons. “It’s been a bit of a slog, but I’m sure it will all be worth it.”